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This robot can become as intelligent as a toddler – with your help

Robot Adam Z1 will draw pictures, play with toys, hold conversations and even express emotions if its crowdfunding campaign succeeds

Crowdfunding has thrown a lot of interesting projects into the public’s path, but few more so than Adam Z1, a highly advanced robot currently under development at GENI Lab in the US.

Adam Z1 is already an impressive combination of AI and mechanics, but makers are looking for $300,000 in funding in order to make him the “world’s smartest robot”. But what does that mean exactly? We caught up with Alex van der Peet, AI Integration Architect on the project, to find out just what will make Adam Z1 special.

“In terms of hardware, Adam’s face is amazingly expressive, which will help to convince people who interact with him that they are talking to an intelligent being.” The team are determined to avoid the “uncanny valley” effect induced by some advanced robots and believe that Adam’s facial expressions will make it easier for people, children especially, to view him as a “real” friend and not a creepy android.

human-like intelligence

Things are perhaps even more impressive on the software front. “He will be the first robot to be fully integrated with OpenCog, one of the few active software platforms in the world that strive to achieve human-like intelligence, rather than pursuing narrow AI, such as chess computers and self-driving cars.”

These two aspects alone, says Van der Peet, make Adam unique among robotic projects today. But there’s more: he’ll be the first robot that integrates deep learning-based visual perception with symbolic logic reasoning. That means, says Van der Peet, that he’ll be able to play with toys in much the same way as a toddler. “If you ask him, ‘Build me something I haven’t seen before’, he would remember what he’d seen you see, and then build you something different.”

That might sound like a simple task, but it combines visual perception, movement, theory of mind, social interaction and planning. It’s not something any other robot around could pull off – in fact, it shows that Adam would have a similar level of intelligence to a three-year-old child.

A milestone for robotics – and humanity

adam z1 2

Van der Peet says that, while a self-driving car might seem like a highly intelligent robot, it’s actually much less intelligent than a toddler. “Children, even at the age of three, already have the capability to understand the world much more completely than a self-driving car. They can build structures with blocks as if they have a fair understanding of structural engineering, have some ability to interact socially with other children and adults, and are able to express their needs and dislikes.”

Once the project is completed, Van der Peet believes Adam Z1 will have all those capabilities (albeit with slightly better communication skills and slightly poorer motor skills than a human child): “He’ll be able to recognise people, have conversations with them about his activities and express his thoughts and dreams in natural language.”

If the project receives the required funding (there is 34 days left at the time of writing), Van der Peet believes Adam Z1 will form the basis for a larger, more agile and more intelligent “adult” robot – and that could be an important milestone in history, not just for robotics but for humanity as a whole: “Having an adult system, capable of understanding who we are as humans, but with an intelligence greater than that of the smartest human minds on earth, would allow it to investigate and solve so many of the problems humanity will face over the next decade. From medicine to product design to philosophy, all these concepts will eventually be reasoned about by artificially intelligent systems, carrying humanity into the next level of its development.”

You can read more about the Adam Z1 project, and back it if you wish, at its Indiegogo page.